European elections: Taking stock of the hearings of the Commissioners-designate: What’s coming next in European politics?

By Laura Contin October 10, 2019 9:50 am

On Tuesday, 8th October the hearings of Commissioners-designates terminated. In the past few weeks, the 27 potential future Commissioners were scrutinised by Committees of the European Parliament. The UK did not put forward any candidate for the Commissioner’s job branding the issue “a distraction” as Britain prepares to leave the EU on 31st October. The hearings represented a crucial moment for the candidates as in the past, these hearings led to candidates withdrawing or having their portfolios changed. In addition, based on the hearings, the European Parliament will decide whether to accept or reject the entire new European Commission before it can take office as of 1st November. The Whitehouse team has reviewed two of the key appointments, based the policy sectors in which we have extensive expertise.

The new Health and Food Safety portfolio

The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) questioned Stella Kyriakides, the new candidate for the Health and Food Safety portfolio during a three-hour debate on 2nd October. The Cypriot native stated in her opening remarks that the environmental and demographic changes faced by European societies can be dealt with only through a “one health” approach, placing good health and healthy food under a single policy umbrella. Her priorities include a new “farm to fork” strategy to improve food safety, action against antimicrobial resistance, and making sure that a steady stream of affordable medicines is made available to citizens.

During her hearing  she was faced with questions ranging from cancer prevention and care to pesticides, antimicrobial resistance and food labelling; the latter will be high on the agenda for the next five-year term of the European Commission; although, food policies, nutrition and consumer information were not largely touched upon in the hearing. Two are the main takeaways from the debate:

  • No new initiatives and workstreams in food policy should be expected in the new Commission, but rather a continuation of the work of the legacy of current Commissioner Vytenis Andrioukaitis
  • The work of the Commissioner-designate will be science-based and will defend the single market for food, while guaranteeing the fair treatment of all products and technologies.

Despite a lack of clarity on policies such as nutrition or health claims, it is fundamental for businesses to continue pushing for more innovation on these topics, engaging with new policymakers at very early stages, so as to shape the political agenda.

The European Green Deal portfolio

On 8th October, Frans Timmermans, Commissioner-designate for the European Green Deal portfolio passed with ample consent his European Parliament hearing after a nearly three-hours debate, and he is set to become Ursula von der Leyen’s climate hero as soon as the new Commission will settle in. Timmermans, who is currently serving as first deputy to outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, will also be the Commission’s head of climate action, taking over duties from Spain’s Miguel Arias Cañete. The key takeaways from Timmermans’ intervention are, among others:

  • Raise the EU’s emissions cutting target to at least 55 percent by 2030
  • Export the European Green Deal to other major economies
  • Explore global solutions for the emissions problems of the transport sector
  • Create a Just Transition Fund to help regions adapt to greener energy

The European Green Deal portfolio is von der Leyen’s top commitment to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent. Von der Leyen wants Europe to be the “front-runner […] and the exporter of knowledge, technologies and best practice”. The EU focus on climate is also the result of the big push of smaller parties, like the Greens in the European Parliament, who gained momentum after the European elections and have become the new king makers in the European chamber.

Overall performances

Of 27 candidates scrutinised, three failed to impress the relevant Committees in the European Parliament. The Romanian candidate MEP Rovana Plumb was rejected by the European Parliament’s legal affairs commission due to a conflict of interest created by a €170,000 loan that Plumb had received in the past. Hungary’s proposed candidate, Laszlo Trocsanyi, who was put forward by von der Leyen as the new Enlargement Commissioner, was also found to be immersed in a conflict of interest and declared unfit to hold the office. Romania and Hungary will have to present European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen with two new proposed candidates for her consideration.

France’s candidate Sylvie Goulard also failed to convince MEPs over her lucrative side job at U.S. think tank Berggruen Institute while she was an MEP, as well as for alleged misuse of EU funds related to her parliamentary assistants’ work. Sylvie Goulard will face a second hearing on Thursday, 10th October.

What will happen next?

Based on the committees’ recommendations, the Conference of Presidents will decide on 17th October if the European Parliament has received sufficient information to declare the hearing process closed. If so, the plenary will vote on whether or not to elect the new College of Commissioners as a whole on 23rd October, in Strasbourg.

It is important for businesses, including for British companies, to be aware that no policy is fixed and that it is essential to keep monitoring developments at EU level and to find ways to engage with the newly formed European Commission.

The multilingual Whitehouse team are experts in politics and policy development across the European Union, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients. More information about our European experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our European Director, Viviana Spaghetti, at viviana.spaghetti@whitehouseconsulting.co.uk.

By Laura Contin October 10, 2019 9:50 am

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